What can yoga teachers do about preventing joint injuries in class? As yoga made the move from a spiritual practice to a fitness craze, the incidents of injury naturally began to climb. Factors such as students with pre-existing injuries, “no pain, no gain” classes, overcrowded studios, overzealous students, and aggressive instructors have all contributed to an increase in injuries.
Over the last two decades, yoga in the USA has grown exponentially. A 2012 survey published by Yoga Journal shows that practitioners of yoga have reached over 20 million compared to the 2008 numbers, which were 15.8 million. It is no wonder that the potential of injury in yoga has been showing up in news headlines lately.
Joint injuries are among the most common. The body is comprised of different types of joints, which include hinge joints, gliding joints and ball and socket.
• Hinge Joints: Particularly vulnerable in yoga are the hinge joints, which are the knees and elbows. The greatest risk of injury to hinge joints is hyperextension. However, it is visually easy to assess when a student is hyperextending a joint, and explain to him or her to counteract by bending the joint out slightly.
• Gliding Joints: Certain asanas put a great deal of pressure on the gliding joints, which are the wrists and ankles. Offer props to students with weak wrists to relieve some pressure in weight-bearing poses like downward dog. Also, explain that not all the weight should rest on the heels of the hand. Advise students to press down with their knuckles and spread their fingers. The lotus pose is the clear winner for ankle discomfort. Suggest to students with weak ankles to practice a modified lotus pose. In addition, students may need to use a wall or chair as a prop for balance poses until the stabilizing ankle muscles have strengthened.
• Ball and Socket: Many poses can strain the ball and socket joints, which are the hips and shoulders. It is very common for people to tense up and shrug their shoulders in certain postures. Instruct students to keep their shoulders back and down. Most yoga related hip injuries are due to pushing too far into a pose. Stress the non-competitive nature of yoga and encourage students to listen to their bodies.
Know the physical condition of each student before you teach a class. During the warm-up is a good time to visually assess your students, and look for potential joint issues. From there you can make suggestions for modifications that will aid in injury prevention.
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